Digital Rights, Safety and Security
The Internet is one of the most widespread and commonly used tools for expression. The unique characteristics of online spaces provide individuals with endless possibilities to deliver their ideas and opinions to anyone willing to listen across borders at relatively low cost, more so than has ever been the case before. Once seen through the lens of human rights discourse, online spaces are inevitable parts of the spaces where these universal rights to freedom of expression must be protected. Despite these challenges, Bangladeshi citizens try to use internet and online spaces as tools and platforms in exercising their rights to freedom of expression. Purpose of this study is to perform a comprehensive systematic review of the Information and Communication Technology Act, 2006, the Digital Security Act, 2018, and other related laws of Bangladesh. Non-government organizations involved in information technology for development related activities, journalists and online activists will be directly benefited from this review and analysis. From the review and analysis of this law, they will have a comprehensive understanding of the legal policy in this regard.
Expressing one’s social, political and religious views in Bangladesh has become riskier than ever. Bloggers and online activists are being categorically targeted by both extremist groups as well as the law enforcement agencies. Physical attacks and killings of netizens have become the new norm. Since inception, the Information and Communication Technology Act 2006 has been riddled with sweeping controversies and criticism
Writers, bloggers, journalists, newspapers, TV channels and social-media users of Bangladesh are directly affected by the adverse effects of the ICT Act. The situation has created a condition wherein media and journalists live in constant fear of sanction by the Government for labeling anything they write controversial and thereby, subject to legal action. Online activists have reduced writing in both print and online forums, as well as reducing their expression or posts on social media on topics related to freedom of expression, women’s rights, labor rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, freedom of religion and secularism. Activists stopped working and have both fears of legal harassment, government’s increased punishments for expression- related offenses and fear of physical attack following the murders of their colleagues. Censorship of digital content, including blocks on YouTube, Facebook and high-profile Bengali blogs have become increasingly common.
Voice has tried to put together such an instrument for everyone involved in the quest of free and open online spaces in Bangladesh. Relevant appraisal of the Bangladeshi laws related to information and communication technologies and freedom of expression was prepared based on standard scientific research methodologies.
After the latest piece of legislation related to ICT and freedom of expression— the Digital Security Act was promulgated in 2018, VOICE assessed the new legal and de-facto landscape of online expression and legal protection in Bangladesh. For the assessment study, standard methods of systematic qualitative study were adapted from recent practices in human rights-related legal policy analysis. Based on the framework, provisions of ICT related laws were reviewed and analyzed how those provisions affect online freedom of expression.
VOICE has been working on Freedom of Expression, right to data privacy, internet accessibility, online safety and security for journalists both by doing research, advocacy and capacity building programmes. The projects are supported by Privacy International, UNDP, Association for Progressive Communications (APC), Internews, Global Partners and FCO.
Below are some snapshots of recent programmes.
Capacity Building workshop on Privacy and Data Protection for Journalists
17 -18 December, 2022 at the UST Training Center, Dhaka
The right to privacy appears to hold a position that is completely natural within the framework of human rights. This right, which is a subset of the larger right to privacy, must be balanced against other fundamental freedoms like the freedom of expression or the freedom of the press, which are essential to a democratic society. A three-day long capacity building workshop has been held in the city from 17 to 119 December 2022. VOICE, a research and advocacy organization organized this training workshop for the media professionals to build their capacity and to disseminate knowledge on personal data protection to enable media professionals to steer clear of any errors that can result in a data security breach. The event was participated by more than 25 journalists and media professionals from different print and electronic media of the country.
The purpose of this training was to improve the protection of personal data and the security capability of journalists and media workers to deal with risks using modern information technology in order to ensure their personal and professional awareness, dignity and promote the human rights of citizens on a larger scale, the process of democratic practice in the country can be accelerated. The workshop methodology was interactive as the guest speakers ensured that the knowledge was not only disseminated but properly perceived and understood by the participants. To ensure this, the participants discussed and kept the forum open for feedback, questions, and suggestions. These discussions and interactive sessions were supported by training materials such as pre- and post-tests, PowerPoint presentations and data security handouts.
Information technology experts have commented that regulations are crucial to deal with the risks of using modern information technology. According to them, the right to personal information and privacy is recognized by international law and the Constitution of Bangladesh. For this purpose, the proposed Data Protection Act 2022 needs to ensure specific definitions in the Act.
These comments were made by technical experts in a three-day workshop titled as Capacity Building for Media Professional on Privacy and Data Protection organized by Voices for Interactive Choice and Empowerment (VOICE) was held at Adabor, Dhaka.
Chairman of the Mass Communication and Journalism Department of Green University, Dr. Mohammad Shafiul Islam, cyber security expert Tanbir Hasan Joha, senior lecturer of BRAC University Saimum Reza, IT expert Ashraful Haque and journalist Ismail Hossain, Project Coordinator Salim Akon spoke in the different sessions of the workshop as resource experts. Project Coordinator Subhatun Nur Prithy, Intern Nayla Afroze, and Finance Manager Shanti Pada Saha facilitated the workshop. Dr. Mohammad Shafiul Islam said there is an inter-connection between human rights and the right to data privacy and added that journalists should practice freedom of speech with responsibility. Cyber security expert Tanvir Hasan Zoha said that privacy is super complicated to be managed and shared insight on digital hygiene and different tools to maintain it properly. He emphasized on how to secure digital devices while using social media handles. Journalists showed their interest to protect the privacy rights and committed to serve as safeguard in their media outlets by reporting and featuring on privacy and data protection.
Capacity Building workshop on Privacy, Data Protection and online safety for Journalists
25 -27 February, 2023 at the Dustha Shasthya Kendra (DSK)
The three-day workshop, titled PRIVACY, DATA PROTECTION AND ONLINE SAFETY, was hosted at the Dushtha Shasthya Kendra (DSK) training cell from 25–27 February, 2023 which was organized by Voices for Interactive Choices and Empowerment (VOICE) to increase the capacity of media professionals. The workshop was attended by 21 authors, students, and journalists. The purpose of this training was to improve the protection of personal data and the security capability of journalists and media workers to deal with risks using modern information technology in order to ensure their personal and professional awareness, dignity and promote the human rights of citizens on a larger scale, the process of democratic practice in the country can be accelerated.
In the workshop, the expert facilitators MD. Taufiq Al Mannan, Tanvir Hasan Zoha and Ashraful Haque, Saimum Reza Talukder discussed the scope and situation of human rights in relation to privacy of data and information, concept of personal information, causes of privacy violation, strategies of prevention and significance of information protection. The discussants further demonstrated an overview of the personal information privacy situation in the light of Bangladesh and international legal context, involvement and protection of women and children, digital hygiene and online safety. The workshop also provided a gender-based perspective of digital privacy and data protection in light of privacy and security at workplace and beyond. Ripa Roy, a Stamford University teacher, has discussed the status of women’s online privacy being grossly undermined and provided a historical context of the patriarchal development of our society.